Transitions: From Philly to Auburn

This post has been long overdue for at least two months. I’ve avoided it because I wasn’t quite sure how to say what I wanted to say… and I still don’t. On the one hand, it’s pretty straightforward: Cassie, Isla, and I will be moving to Auburn, AL, this Friday, August 1st where I’ll soon begin working as Alabama Rural Ministry’s Director of Ministry Operations.

We’re so excited to be moving back to AL – to AUBURN – and I, personally, am beyond excited to be working with ARM – a ministry that has had such a big impact on my life and sense of calling thus far. For those of you who may not know, ARM extends the love of Christ in order to end sub-standard housing in rural Alabama through home repair and children’s ministries. I served on ARM’s summer staff as a construction site coordinator in Sumter Count back in 2005. While my new role will have me at ARM’s main office in Opelika, AL, I’ll also have plenty of opportunity to seek God’s kingdom back home in Sumter County. It’ll be challenging work for me in a number of ways but I’m so grateful to Lisa Pierce, ARM’s founder and executive director, for her vision and the opportunity to work alongside her.

We’re also excited to be back down south, close to our families, and a bit further from the “big city” 😉 On the other hand, it’s just not that simple.

I guess you could say we’re “moving back home” since we’ll be moving from PA back to AL (Cassie is from TN but… close enough). But saying that might imply that we’re not at home here, in Wynnewood/Ardmore, PA… and that would be wrong. We are home here. We didn’t expect it, but it happened. All we can say in hindsight is that God is so good.

We’ll be saying goodbye to so many people and places we’ve come to love: Six:Eight Community Church, our community group, all our friends at Linwood Park, our awesome neighbors, our friends from seminary, our co-workers… Leaving Wynnewood/Ardmore will not be easy at all.

All our excitement for what’s next can’t cover up the feelings of loss and grief that come from letting go of our life here in PA. We cannot thank God enough for all the people who have welcomed us into their lives. We southerners talk a big talk about hospitality, but I now know that hospitality doesn’t end when you cross the Mason-Dixon line. Cassie and I have been given such a gift in the friendships we’ve made here. In some mysterious way, we know that all those people, those relationships, will go with us as we move. We’re just not the same people as we were when we moved here 3 years ago. We’ve been changed by the people and the place we’ve come to know; and we can’t escape that – nor would we want to.

In a very real, yet mysterious way, I think Cassie and I have had an authentic experience, a foretaste, of God’s coming kingdom during our time here in Wynnewood/Ardmore – several experiences actually. Some have been at church, others at our community group, and still others at Linwood Park. God’s kingdom has been made real and tangible for us… and I’m in awe as I reflect back on its goodness.

So, transitions… we’re on the move once again, following the Spirit as little children who Jesus said would be the ones who welcome and enter the abundant life of God’s new creation. We hope to stay put for awhile in the Auburn/Opelika/Lee-Macon county area. We hope to be able to plant ourselves in a community in the way our church has planted itself in Ardmore/Wynnewood. We walk by faith – not by sight.

What can we say? Thank God and thank you – all of you.

And now, may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”


Fee on Paul’s Already-Not Yet Eschatologial Framework

The fundamental framework for all of Paul’s theologizing, especially for “salvation in Christ,” is his eschatological understanding of present existence – as both “already” and “not yet.” With the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, God has already set the future inexorably in motion; thus salvation is “already.” But the consummation of salvation awaits the (now second) coming of Christ – the “Day of Christ,” Paul calls it (1:6, 10; 2:16); thus salvation has “not yet” been fully realized. The fact that the future has already begun with the coming of God himself (through Christ and the Spirit) means two crucial things for Paul: that the consummation is absolutely guaranteed, and that present existence is therefore altogether determined by this reality. That is, one’s life in the present is not conditioned or determined by present exigencies, but by the singular reality that God’s people belong to the future that has already come present. Marked by Christ’s death and resurrection and identified as God’s people by the gift of the Spirit, they live the life of the future in the present, determined by its values and perspective, no matter what their present circumstances.

Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 50-51.

Amy Sherman on Why (Some) American Evangelicals are So Prosperous

churches need to take vocation much more seriously. Proverbs 11:10 tells us what our prosperity is for. Most middle- and upper-middle-class American evangelicals can be labeled “the prospering.” True, we’re not Bill Gates or Donald Trump. But compared with many of our neighbors and with the billions of poor all over the world, we are indeed privileged and wealthy.

A vital part of that prosperity is our vocational power. Unlike so many in the world, we have choices about what work to do. We are well educated and skilled. We have networks to draw on, platforms to use, knowledge to share. Many of us are working in institutions-schools, media, government agencies, corporations-that significantly influence the quality of life in our nation. God has lavished all this on us for a reason: that we would use it for the common good, not for individual gain.

Clearly, learning how to steward our vocational power is a major component of growing as the tsaddiqim [the righteous ones] who rejoice our cities. By vocational stewardship, I mean the intentional and strategic deployment of our vocational power-knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills and reputation-to advance foretastes of God’s kingdom. For missional congregations that desire to rejoice their cities, vocational stewardship is an essential strategy. To accomplish their big vision, they need to capitalize intentionally on the vocational power of their members.

Amy L. Sherman. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good

SUPER excited about reading this book over the Christmas break.

Heschel on Ecstasy, Poetry, and How Prophecy is like the Now but Not Yet Reign of God

In his well-known book, The Prophets, Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel defends the Hebrew prophets against claims of modern psychology (in the 1960s) which tried to explain the “enigma” of prophecy using the “theory of ecstasy.” Basically, “ecstasy” is an out of body experience in which the soul is united with divine being; sometimes ecstasy came in a wild, crazy, dancing form and sometimes its quiet, reserved, and sublime. Heschel goes to great lengths to show that the Hebrew prophets were not ecstatics.

Ecstasy requires a loss of consciousness; the Hebrew prophets always retained their ability to respond to God’s word. Ecstasy was associated with ANE religions which practiced alcoholic orgies, which were consistently opposed throughout the Biblical narrative. Ecstasy calls for union with God; the prophets knew that God was holy, transcendent, and should be feared. Ecstasy destroys genuine human personality; the prophets always retained a sense of self as they were empowered to dialogue with God. Ecstasy was a state willfully pursued by worshipers of orgiastic cults; the prophets were ones called by God against their wills.

Ecstasy takes the worshipper out of their consciousness into a state of detachment from the world; the prophets were profoundly concerned with the dealings of their world. Ecstasy leads to an experience which cannot be communicated; prophecy is not prophecy unless the word of God is spoken and heard. Ecstasy is a private affair; prophecy is fully public and designed to speak into the life of a people. Ecstasy has its end in itself; prophecy’s end is a people’s obedience to the will of God. Ecstasy is concerned only about spiritual, heavenly matters; the prophets were concerned about the everyday lives of people in the marketplaces, the courts, and the fields.

Ecstasy is based on a theology of “radical transcendence” which leads to a desire for complete “union” of humanity with God. However, the God of the prophets, the God of pathos, is not inaccessible and does not desire union. The God of pathos desires fellowship and community. The prophets have no need to strive for God’s presence because God is always and already approaching them. Yes, God is transcendent but God is not distant. This chapter was important for me because it reinforced God’s desire for me to become all that God has created me to be, to grow into more complete personhood so that I can fully participate with God – not simply be “used” by God like a shovel – in God’s mission of justice and righteousness. God desires personal wholeness and embodied integrity; not a fragmented, disembodied mind who must deny his “flesh” in order to be “holy.”

After dismantling the theory of ecstasy as an explanation for prophetic experience, Heschel changes his direction to take on yet another theory which attempts to solve the “enigma” of the biblical prophets: poetic inspiration. If the theory of ecstasy tried to limit the prophets to a totally transcendent, other-worldly sphere of existence, the theory of poetic inspiration takes the opposite approach by completely demythologizing the prophetic revelation and removing all traces of divine activity.

As poets, the prophets are merely exercising the power of their imaginations – albeit to a degree that set them apart from their peers. Heschel admits that the prophetic literature does at times take on the form and beauty of poetry, but he adamantly rejects the idea that the prophet’s message is simply poetic – originating within their own imaginations. The prophet’s spoke and acted because they had knowingly encountered the person of God; not because they were overwhelmed with a mysterious, faceless gust of creative energy. The prophets were not poets.

By examining both of these theories – ecstasy and poetry, Heschel brings up the “either-or” tendency in human thinking. In their attempts to explain prophecy, the theories of ecstasy and poetic inspiration reveal how difficult it can be to hold two seemingly opposite ideas in tension. The truth is that prophecy is simultaneously natural and divine; it has elements of the poetic and the ecstatic. As followers of Christ through the Spirit, the church’s existence is defined by this “either-or” tension as it lives in the “now but not yet” of God’s reign. Too often, I fail to hold this tension by losing track of the “not yet” of God’s new creation. I forget that neither I, nor anyone else, can “build” or “expand” God’s reign as if the saving of the world depended entirely on human effort and progress. The reign of God is a reality I am invited to “receive and enter” (Luke 18:17) — not “build.” On the other hand, it is one that I must “make every effort to enter” (Hebrews 4:11). Like prophecy, God’s reign is – for now – an enigma: not something to be solved, but a reality – a person (three persons actually!) – to be experienced and known in a community of pilgrims on the way.

Imagining the Kingdom with James K. A. Smith

After hITKcoverolding my breath for 3 months until the spring semester was over, I’ve finally started reading James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. It’s the 2nd installment of his “Cultural Liturgies” project and follows what could be the best book I’ve read in several years: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. You can find my extremely brief summary of that book right hereYou can find a great review of Imagining the Kingdom over at the Englewood Review of Books.

What does Smith have in store with this book?

The focus of this second volume is to home in on these themes, further exploring the shape of a liturgical anthropology in order to articulate a Christian philosophy of action that (1) recognizes the nonconscious, pretheoretical “drivers” of our action and behavior, centered in what I call the imagination; (2) accounts for the bodily formation of our habituated orientation to the world; and thus (3) appreciates the centrality of story as rooted in this “bodily basis of meaning” and as a kind of pretheoretical compass that guides and generates human action (p13-14).

Hmmm… that sounds nice and all, but what exactly does it mean?

In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story (p14).

Ahhh… much better! Smith wants to help us understand what really causes us to do what we do. This is important because the life of Christian discipleship is not a “spectator sport.” It’s full contact and, as John Wimber would say, “Everybody gets to play.” We are all actors, agents, the movers and the shakers. We are a sent people who are caught up in the missio Dei – the mission of the Triune God (p3-8).

Smith is particularly interested in how we are shaped by “secular liturgies” (like going to the mall) and the role of Christian worship as a practice that re-shapes or re-forms us over against all the ways we are formed by the practices all around us. In addition, Smith is concerned about re-framing the paradigm of Christian education, universities in particular, from an “information” model to a “formation” model. Basically, Christian education and Christian worship are preparing us for the same thing: our participation in the mission of God (p3-8). But, how does this formation happen?

Smith’s response to this question has me uber-excited about finishing this book:

And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment – by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world. Our incarnating God continues to meet us where we are: as imaginative creatures of habit. So we are invited into the life of the Triune God by being invited to inhabit concrete rituals and practices that are “habitations of the Spirit.” As the Son is incarnate – the Word made flesh meeting we who are flesh – so the Spirit meets us in tangible, embodied practices that are conduits of the Spirit’s transformative power. The Spirit marshals our embodiment in order to rehabituate us to the kingdom of God. The material practices of Christian worship are not exercises in spiritual self-management but rather the creational means that our gracious God deigns to inhabit for our sanctification (p14-15).

I can dig it.

What do we mean by “sustainability”?

“Sustainability” is, as far as I can see, a project designed to keep this culture — this lifestyle — afloat. The modern human economy is an engine of mass destruction. Of course, I am conflicted about this. I live at the heart of this machine; like you, I am a beneficiary of it. If it falls apart, I will probably suffer, and I don’t want to.

What exactly do we mean by “sustainability”? As followers of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, the question of what we are choosing to “sustain” is extremely important. It seems to me that we will ultimately choose to sustain what we value the most. What do we value? What is our end? And what do we need to sustain in order to see that future become real in our present?

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